Butterfly Stroke for Beginners

Last Updated on August 1st, 2023

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Have you ever watched swimming during the Summer Olympics and wondered how to do the graceful butterfly strokes as the professionals do? 

This physically and technically demanding stroke is difficult to learn but highly rewarding.

Keep reading to learn just how to start mastering the butterfly stroke as a beginner.


What Should Beginners Focus on with Butterfly Stroke?

Similar to front crawl, breaststroke, and backstroke, the butterfly relies heavily on proper head and body positioning to increase your streamlined profile and reduce the effort needed to propel oneself forward in the water.

Your neck should remain in a neutral state with your head pointed to the bottom of the pool. The hands are held just wider than shoulder-width apart, with a cupped hand pointing downwards such that your body forms a “Y” shape when viewed from above.


Four Tips for Beginners Learning Butterfly Stroke

If you are learning the butterfly stroke, you may be considered a beginner, but you should already have a solid grasp of other methods of swimming and be comfortable in the water. 

People brand new to swimming, in general, should first learn other strokes before attempting the butterfly.

The tips listed below are aimed at those looking to improve their pre-existing swimming experience and technique.

First of all, ditch the equipment. Pieces of equipment like floats or kickboards have their place as an aid in learning to swim, but the butterfly stroke is not one of them. 

Since you should already have plenty of experience in the water, you will know how to restrict your movements simply by not using muscle groups when performing drills. 

Not only will this help you get a more natural feel of the stroke as you progress, but you will also avoid potential straining injuries. 

Snorkels, however, can be a good tool when starting so that you don’t have to worry about coming up for breaths until you get more of the swing of the stroke timing. 

Secondly, focus on rhythmic breathing. Breathing is important for living, but for swimming, it is crucial to breathe at the right time, every time. This helps you get into the flow of the stroke and will keep your muscles from being fatigued early on from a buildup of lactic acid. 

Remember that breathing out throughout a butterfly cycle is natural and just as important as breathing in at the right time.

After that, pair up your legs. The dolphin kick is performed with the legs kept together, so doing just that might seem like common sense. Unfortunately, many beginners tend to let their legs drift apart instead of having them tightly pressed together. 

They may even start resorting to more familiar techniques like flutter kicks instead of performing an efficient dolphin kick. 

And finally, touch the hips. The pull phase of the arms generates the propulsion in the butterfly stroke, but the recovery phase is just as important for setting up the next pull phase. 

To have consistent arm strokes, brushing the thumbs briefly against the hips as you pull the arms up and forward during the recovery phase is necessary. It ensures that you have efficient arm rotation and movement by keeping them close to the trunk of the body. 

By using the thumbs to brush the hips, you will also have the correct orientation of your hands for the best possible catch and pull phases.


What Should Beginners Avoid with Butterfly Stroke?

There are many pitfalls that beginners can fall into when learning butterflies for the first time. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid:


  • Incorrect head position. Like most other swimming strokes, making sure your head is properly aligned in the water will minimize your drag for faster swimming with less effort. 


Beginners will often lift their heads too high out of the water to breathe, and this lowers their legs and hips into the water. When your lower body sinks, you lose your streamlined profile, making swimming harder.


  • Too much knee movement during the dolphin kick. The dolphin kick is an advanced technique that uses more than just the legs for propulsion and balance. The kick should mostly come from the hips instead of the knees. 


Because the whole lower body moves in response to the hips, the knees will naturally bend slightly but should not be the focus of the technique itself.


  • Inconsistent breathing. Some beginners try to breathe all the time when they are swimming, which is why their head is so high in the water, while others try to breathe as little as possible. 


You should always establish a consistent breathing pattern early on in training that can be replicated in races and other real-life situations.


  • Trying to swim slowly. After learning individual parts of swimming strokes, first-time swimmers often attempt what they have learned as a slow, combined exercise that emulates the full swimming experience. 


While this is a good practice, in theory, it doesn’t often work when it comes to swimming the butterfly stroke. This is because you begin to sink in the water when you swim slowly. 

Depending on how deep you are, you may not be able to breathe, and you’ll have greater resistance because your arms won’t fully exit the water between the recovery and pull phases.


Can Beginners Teach Themselves Butterfly Strokes?

Although it is universally agreed by professionals and beginners alike that the butterfly is the toughest stroke to learn, it is entirely possible for a novice to teach this challenging swimming discipline.

Swimming drills that assist beginners while focusing on separate parts of the butterfly stroke are the greatest tools that someone who has never done the butterfly before can use.

An instructor may be able to help newcomers to the butterfly stroke identify where they are going wrong, but ultimately it is practicing drills until you can combine individual parts into a synchronized stroke that teaches beginners how to swim the butterfly stroke.


Final Thoughts on Butterfly Stroke for Beginners

As you can see, the butterfly stroke is not for true swimming beginners but for those new to the technique. It is possible for this subset of learners to teach themselves the stroke, but it takes patience and dedication until you can properly execute all of the movements together.